Meet Riley, an autistic, transgender former student living in Philadelphia’s Benjamin Franklin Pkwy encampment

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Riley, an autistic, transgender 26-yr-old w/ a heart full of empathy & a head full of big ideas, has lived at the newly populated tent encampment on Philadelphia’s Benjamin Franklin Pkwy since June. They, (Riley’s pronoun) are 1 of about 150. On Tuesday, I had the opportunity to visit the BFP camp, which formed in part as a reaction to Coronavirus. Recently, the community has gotten a lot of attention, thanks to the standoff between the residents/local activists & the mayor, following a judge’s decision to allow the camp to be forcibly cleared. Philadelphia maintains a poverty rate of 25.5 percent, far higher than either LA or New York. The city’s rates of *unsheltered* homeless, however, are a fraction of the other two cities. This divide is possible thanks to temporary housing solutions in Philadelphia. But permanent housing is another issue altogether; one largely absent from public discussion thanks to its lack of visibility on the streets. The Philadelphia Housing Authority currently manages a permanent housing waitlist of 47,000 families. And it hasn’t accepted a new applicant since *2013.* The Benjamin Franklin Parkway encampment emerged as part housing solution, amidst more tumbling into homelessness and more leaving homeless shelters because of unpopularity and risks relating to Covid, and part protest against the lack of affordable housing. Before they arrived at the encampment, Riley was a social engineering student at Drexel U. working to find solutions to poverty & hunger. “How people eat, how they get water, that’s network engineering,” Riley said, getting emotional. “We’re not focusing on the right things.” Riley fell into homelessness, they said, due to Coronavirus’ push to move things online — a relative impossibility considering their inability to process learning or working from across a screen. Still, they’re not wasting this moment. They wants to use this large tent to create a “camp counseling center,” a safe space where people can zone out or talk ab what they’re dealing w/ physically & emotionally. “Everything that comes out of (this encampment) is so negative,” they said. “But there is so much beauty here, too.”

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Tour Bertie

A van build for the PEOPLE

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⚠️ WARNING ⚠️ is *not* the outrageously expensive, over-the-top #vanlife experience you see taking over Instagram. ⁣ ⁣ Bertie is a van for the people. 😂🥰⁣ ⁣ Actually, this whole process taught me that you can make something beautiful AND highly functional on a serious budget. I’m talking about $1,000 including build and decor, compared with $150K versions of #vanbuildout that you regularly see. (I had to request people to stop sending me links of those for “inspiration” about 8 times.)⁣ ⁣ I went down to Atlanta to meet my friend @usapastorblue (pictured!), bought $300 worth of wood and supplies and installed a bed frame over the tire wheels, two shelves over the bed, and a counter top with leg space for a desk/table and three more small shelves, plus a wooden basket for inside the side door and a small built-in drink holder. ⁣ ⁣ Later, back in North Carolina, my mom and I installed a third shelf over the desk/kitchen “area” with a 1×8 she had lying around and a cut 1×4. ⁣ ⁣ From there, it was screwing in a couple of spray painted metal baskets, bigger hooks for hanging jackets, towels and bags, and smaller hooks to hold lighting and eventually, plants. 🥰🌱 ⁣ ⁣ I sanded and stained everything (twice, cause I messed it up the first time 😩) and then… it was time to decorate. ⁣ ⁣ Have you seen pictures of my final designed #tinyhome on my Instagram highlight yet?! How many stars would you give Bertie & I?! 🥰 #vanlife #vanconversion #projectvanlife

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Van life begins

Police weapons out during Skid Row arrest of unarmed man

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Frankly, this could have gone way worse. ⁣⁣ ⁣⁣ A lot of arrests in #SkidRow look like this: extreme cop presence, weapons out, instant aggression despite that nothing violent was happening. ⁣⁣ ⁣⁣ Many of those arrested have mental health and/or disabilities, as was the case here; situations which require extra care and alternative personnel but rarely receive either. ⁣⁣ ⁣⁣ Then, as you see in the next video, the police turns to the crowd on the sidewalks — ostensibly folks who are in their own front yards — as if they are criminals too. ⁣⁣ ⁣ The man in the center, the brother of a friend’s wife, was arrested and unhurt when he was taken away. But the events that led to that detainment were once again way out of control.⁣ ⁣⁣ This system is broken and the police officers out there who agree need to drop their guns and join the cause that ACTUALLY matters. #defundthepolice

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The violent reality of Skid Row “evictions”

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A Skid Row tent went up in flames around midnight on Wednesday, catching flame to an apartment building at 5th and San Pedro (across from @stephanitelystyle and @kingsilas_is_kingpharaoh’s White House) in the process. ⁣ ⁣ Thanks to Pharoah’s quick work helping to move things around, no other tents were burned. That material snaps up sparks faster than firewood, but word on the street was that the fire wasn’t an accident. ⁣ ⁣ I’ve been told for two months that Skid Row, operating by its own laws and power structures, believes in policing its own, in part because every system of authority has failed them. Wednesday was further evidence of that. “He was messing up,” I was told. ⁣ ⁣ A bottle of lighter fluid later, the man had lost his home. According to those around, he thankfully was not in the tent at the time and no one was hurt. #skidrow #skidrowla #skidrowportraits #skidrowphotos #homelessnessawareness #homelesslivesmatter

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Shorty and Skid Row continue to teach me about white privilege

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Since I’ve been reporting in Skid Row, I’ve been working w/ Shorty to achieve the tools necessary to receive her rightful CARES Act check & change her situation.⁣⁣⁣ ⁣⁣⁣ Homelessness is destructive in its ability to keep one on the treadmill; to plunder one’s energy and redirect it: toward immediate safety & possession protection, toward accessing food, water, a place to use the bathroom, a tarp to keep off the rain.⁣⁣⁣ ⁣⁣⁣ But as I’ve witnessed, those aren’t the only challenges. ⁣⁣⁣ ⁣⁣⁣ Yesterday, when Shorty & I were doing errands — going to check her mail, attempting to sign her up for various programs, to retrieve an ID — I was well aware that I was getting a different response than she typically does, trying to execute these seemingly simple tasks alone. ⁣⁣⁣ ⁣⁣⁣ While waiting in line, she looked at me. “When I’m with you, suddenly doors are open,” she said.⁣⁣⁣ ⁣⁣⁣ In my shame & embarrassment, I said something stupid: “There’s power in numbers,” But Shorty, ever sharp & perceptive, corrected me. “No,” she said, running a finger down the white skin of my arm. “It’s this.” ⁣⁣⁣ ⁣⁣⁣ As Minneapolis and the country suffers yet another tragedy this week, mourning— to quote Ta-Nehisi Coates — the way that racism reduces to violence landing on the black body, I’ve been thinking about my time in Skid Row. ⁣⁣⁣ ⁣⁣⁣ There, as one of the few white people around, I operate under a completely different standard; held to a different set of rules, even if I don’t always recognize it in the moment — the very definition of privilege. When the cops roll through, they see me differently; friends have kidded about handing me their beers should trouble arise. It’s a joke, but it’s not.⁣⁣⁣ ⁣⁣⁣ But my experiences w/ Shorty have reminded me, viscerally, that physical force isn’t the only violence that lands on the black body. That the systematic distrust, dismissal & rebuke of POCs serve to bring individuals down & keep them there. That doesn’t always equal death, but it certainly impacts life. ⁣⁣⁣ ⁣⁣⁣ I am learning every day: to acknowledge my own privilege, to use it for change; to see my own failure to do so & all the ways I feed into this broken system. I promise to keep trying. ❤️

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Santa Monica police chief still has no answers, shifts blame five days after Sunday catastrophe

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Today, during a peaceful protest at Santa Monica, CA’s city hall, questions were lobbed at police chief Cynthia Renaud, who took the megaphone despite have stunningly little to say. ⁣ ⁣ Five days after Sunday’s catastrophe, in which police forces first open-fired with tear gas canisters and rubber bullets on peaceful protesters while designating woefully few resources to address the separately occurring looting and destruction, Renaud had the audacity to announce she was aware that “in some cities, in some states,” the police have shown racism and acted aggressively and wrongfully toward the civilian population. All the while, tank-like vehicles and officers garbed in military fatigues lined the perimeter of unarmed protesters. ⁣ ⁣ It was remarkable that she agreed to speak having clearly thought so little about what to say, and even more incredible to hear that she seems to believe the current movement against police brutality that is sweeping the nation has nothing to do with her innocent police force, which by the way, intentionally shot me in the foot with a rubber bullet on Sunday, along with many others, who fared much worse. She even had the nerve to bring a black officer to the center stage with her (though not allowing him to talk) as she declared “We are the Santa Monica police Dept. This is what we look like.” ⁣ ⁣ The crowd, booing loudly, was not entertained. Neither am I. If Sunday’s chaos didn’t prove ineptitude, her inability to apologize for the massive errors — or even recognize or reckon with them publicly — certainly did. 😤 #FireCynthiaRenaud #santamonicaprotest #defundthepolice #laprotest #santamonicapolice

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The state of policing: does “protect and serve” still apply?

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Yesterday in Santa Monica, as the protest we’d been a part of for hours continued peacefully, the police was pulling on gas masks.⁣ ⁣ Like everyone, I couldn’t help but watch them as they faced off with the people they’ve promised to serve and protect. Some of the cops pulled batons from their holsters, gripped their pellet guns as if just looking for a reason to shoot. Others seemed as though they were attempting to embody “neutral” amidst this dystopian show of militant antagonism. ⁣ ⁣ But if that was ever possible, it certainly no longer is.⁣ ⁣ I believe there are members of the police who are trying to be good humans. Some, when they signed up to be a cop, probably believed they were doing something good & helpful for society. Many probably never dreamed they’d be in a situation like yesterday; charged with shutting down peaceful protests, representing and protecting — rather than the community at large — fellow officers who have been exposed on camera breaking the law in horrendous ways.⁣ ⁣ But let’s be honest, this isn’t working. Police indoctrination is broken. The training model is broken. The procedure is broken. The values are broken. The culture is broken. Innocent black Americans are dying at a rate that should infuriate us all.⁣ ⁣ Now, part of an officer’s job includes tear gassing and shooting innocent, peaceful protesters with rubber bullets, as the police did yesterday, shortly after pulling on the masks. The pressure is higher than ever and yet I can’t believe we haven’t seen *more* officers step down right now. Are you all really OK with defending and validating this system?? Can you sleep at night??⁣ ⁣ If you are an officer who is trying to do good in the world, please don’t delude yourself into believing you can spur change from the inside; like a cancer, healing cannot come from within the very forces that created it; the immune system is too weak, the cancer is too strong. It takes something destructive, like chemotherapy, ravaging the entire system in hopes the cancer is rooted out, too.⁣ ⁣ It’s time to reconsider whether being a part of the police means protecting and serving as the oath says — or if it means the opposite.

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Peaceful Santa Monica protests, until law enforcement arrived